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Thanks to fun roles in Joss Whedon's The Avengers and Joe and Anthony Russo's Captain America: The Winter Soldier (and to a lesser extent Jon Favreau's Iron Man 2), Black Widow has been firmly and successfully centered as the female lead of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. But what you may not know is that there was actually a Black Widow movie in development long before Scarlett Johansson tried on her first pair of stingers... and it was killed by one of the uglier box office bombs of the last decade.
Comic Book Resources has a full breakdown Black Widow's long flirtation with live action - which actually dates back to an attempted Daredevil/Black Widow television show back in the 1970s - but the more interesting details are about the Black Widow movie that nearly got made back in 2004. At the time, actor/screenwriter David Hayter was coming off the comic book movie success of both 2000's X-Men and 2003's X2 (both of which he had a hand in writing), and Lionsgate offered him an opportunity to write a Black Widow script and make it as his directorial debut (this was a time before the movie rights to the character went back to Marvel). What he created was a fairly faithful adaptation of the super spy's origin story from the comics, but unfortunately the project wound up being doomed by a whole bunch of other similar features that were coming out around the same time.
Some of you may remember the time in the early '00s when there was a boom of female-led action films, partially generated by the growth of the video game movie market. The original Resident Evil, starring Milla Jovovich, and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, with Angelina Jolie, both did well at the box office - as did the epic Quentin Tarantino two-parter Kill Bill. Sadly, you may also remember that this trend didn't wind up lasting too long thanks to the release of some serious stinkers. There were a few titles like this, such as Ultraviolet and BloodRayne, but in the story of the Black Widow movie that almost was, there is one standout title:
Karyn Kusama's Aeon Flux, based on the animated series of the same name, came out in 2005 and was a complete disaster. Completely trashed by critics and a total dud at the box office, the film was really a disaster on all fronts and ended up being the final nail in the coffin for Black Widow. Said Hayter in a 2011 interview,
"Aeon Flux didn’t open well, and three days after it opened, the studio said, 'We don’t think it’s time to do this movie.' I accepted their logic in terms of the saturation of the marketplace, but it was pretty painful."
It's impressive that less than a decade has passed since all of this went down, and yet the entire blockbuster environment is completely different. Now fans are actively asking for a Black Widow film, and while it doesn't seem to be in the cards just yet, Marvel certainly has no plans on putting the character back on the shelf any time soon. She will next be seen on the big screen in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, which will be in theaters May 1, 2015.